by Eric Bohl
Small farms are booming in Missouri, and nearly all farms in the state are family-owned. Missourians are proud of our family farming tradition, and new data prove the tradition remains strong. Every five years the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts a nationwide census. USDA released findings from the 2017 census in early April. Results also show that more young people are getting involved in agriculture across Missouri.
Although 20 states are physically larger than Missouri, the Census of Agriculture found that our state is second in the nation in total number of farms, with 95,320. The only state with more farms is Texas, but it has the advantage of being about four times the size of Missouri. The census also found that more than 96 percent of Missouri farms are considered family-owned. These data together show that small family farms are much more common in Missouri than most other states.
Small farms are not just hanging on in Missouri – they’re showing dramatic growth. Over the past five years, the number of farms under 10 acres grew by 41 percent and farms from 10 to 50 acres grew by 10 percent.
Farming is also a more common profession in Missouri than most other states. Missouri is second only to only Texas in the number of female farmers, farmers with military service, and those classified as young farmers or new and beginning farmers.
Media coverage of the census primarily focused on the average age of farmers. The national average age of primary producers on a farm climbed by one year in this census to 59.4 years old. Missouri’s average age was almost identical, at 59.3. However, there are some signs of a youth movement in Missouri, with the number of farmers aged 25 to 34 increasing seven percent since 2012.
Judging by the data, many of these younger farmers are getting involved in livestock and specialty crops, which often have lower barriers to entry than row crop operations. The average age of Missouri farmers in the hog and pig category was only 46.4 years old, nearly 13 years younger than the average. Farmers younger than age 35 made up over one-quarter of this category.
Young farmers also appear to be flocking to poultry and eggs. Missouri has more than doubled its number of egg laying operations over the last 20 years, from 3,707 to 9,052. In the same time, the number of poultry farms and turkey farms have each increased by 40 percent. Much of this growth has been driven by younger farmers, with the sector’s average age standing at 49.5 years.
While the Census of Agriculture’s mountains of information can overwhelm anyone, the bottom line is simple. Small family farming is thriving in Missouri, and opportunities abound for those willing to work hard, whether they are young or old.